After taking three of four games last week from the AL Central leading Detroit Tigers, the Red Sox looked ready to re-establish themselves as a strong playoff force. Then they wilted in the heat of Texas and are now a half game behind the Rangers in the wild card race. This is not good, but all you needed to do was take a look at the lineup for yesterday’s 4 to 3 loss to understand what’s wrong with this team.
Five of the nine starters were not on the Red Sox three weeks ago!
- Victor Martinez (Indians) was catching.
- Casey Kotchman (Braves) was at first.
- Alex Gonzalez (Reds) was at short stop.
- Brian Anderson (White Sox) was in right field (subbing, of course, for the every ailing J.D. Drew).
- And Junichi Tazawa (Pawtuckett) was pitching.
Of course, Martinez and Kotchman are quality professional ball players. Alex Gonzalex is a decent defensive short stop, but he’s no Nick Green with a bat! Brian Anderson — who? huh? And Tazawa was an amateur in the Japanese Industrial League just last year.
In other words, what the Sox have right now is not a team but a patch job. While I can’t blame general manager Theo Epstein for the moves that have brought in these players — what else was he going to do? — one can blame him for the team that came into this season and resulted in this situation:
- Two years ago Theo signed the perpetually injured J.D. Drew to an absurd contract. Take away about 10 at bats during his two-plus seasons with the Sox and Drew is a complete washout for the kind of money he’s getting, and he is continually sitting on the bench with another physical problem. The guy is as fragile as 14-year-old girl’s self esteem.
- Two years ago Theo brought in Julio Lugo to be the Sox permanent solution at leadoff hitter and shortstop. The Sox are now paying Lugo to play for the St. Louis Cardinals, and had to go out to get the light-hitting (and that’s really an insult to light-hitters) Gonzalez to stabilize the infield.
- Surprisingly, Theo seems not to have noticed that Jason Varitek has had birthdays in each of the past seven years… That is, Varitek was clearly aging, but Epstein did little — and what he did was ineffective — to find and groom a replacement. Therefore he was forced to ship out Justin Masterson, who could probably have been moved from the pen to the starting rotation, to the Indians for Victor Martinez.
- Rather than sign a genuine starting pitcher in the off-season, Theo tried to round out the rotation on the cheap with reclamation projects Brad Penny and John Smoltz. Smoltz is now gone and Penny has been mostly erratic, and certainly not chewing up innings.
- For outfield depth, Theo signed local favorite and sentimental choice Rocco Baldelli. But Baldelli has a physical condition that prevents him from playing every day, which you think would have been a red flag given the likelihood that Drew would need continual relief from his duties. Thus you’ve got Brian Anderson in right field (and a week ago against the Yankees Kevin Youkilis in left field).
Some of these moves may be the result of ownership asking Theo to be careful this past off-season, given the economy. After all, no one knew for sure if fans would even be able to continue to fill Fenway. But mostly these moves are just mistakes. With one or two better decisions, this Sox team could be competing with the Yankees right now.
(I hate to admit it, but Tony Massarrotti was right about signing Mark Teixeira — just think if the Sox had him and Yankees didn’t.)
The bottom line for me is that I now think it likely the Sox won’t make the playoffs this year. They just have too many holes and the few guys who can carry them — who HAVE carried them — just are not able to take the team on their shoulders this time (I’m talking about Jason Bay, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis).
But I do think the nucleous is here for a very good team. With a few more pieces, with a few new young guys from the farm system this team could be very dangerous next year. All it will take are two or three astute moves by Theo Epstein in the off season. Is he up to it?